Why I Decided to Become a Comic

A photo I found from Myspace. Hey, remember MySpace?

The number 1 question I get is why did you decide to become a comedian?  I always loved standup comedy.  I used to check the TV guide to see what comedians would be on the Tonight Show.  If Steve Martin or Don Rickles was on, I would do everything possible to stay up to watch them.  (another of my favorites was Charlie Callas)  Despite being pretty young, I was weirdly drawn to every Dean Martin Roast, as well.

I used to save my paper route money and buy comedy records.  Since George Carlin and Richard Pryor were too profane for my house, I would plug the headphones into our wood-paneled console stereo and listen to them.  These 2 were my formative training class, but I also had comedy albums by comics as diverse as Redd Foxx, Jimmie Walker, and Cheech and Chong.

While Carlin and Pryor were great, when I was 11 Steve Martin hit like a meteor.  He was everything that a young comedy fan could want.  Silly, irreverent, and completely unique.  I wore out his records and couldn’t wait for him to host Saturday Night Live.  Around the same time, I discovered Woody Allen and his movies were revolutionary to me.  These were the days when Woody went for the laugh first (Sleeper, Bananas, Take the Money and Run, etc).  During the same period, Monty Python came onto my radar.  A mix of Carlin, Pryor, Steve Martin, Woody Allen, early SNL, and Monty Python were my main focuses.  Hard to imagine a more revolutionary time in comedy than this period between 1973-1978.

My parents split up around 1979 and despite the upheaval it created, I was thrilled to be away from the iron-fisted control by my Father.  I started to become the class clown at around this time. Now, I was never the Jackass-type class clown, trying to get laughs with crazy stunts.  I was more the type of class clown who wanted to do small things that would get under my teachers skin.  My class clown was based more on Bill Murray’s anti-authoritative character in Stripes.  I was my high school’s newspaper editor my junior and senior year.  I never had a dreams of being a standup, though, as I wanted to be the next Mike Royko or Jim Murray.

I went to college to explore my journalistic dreams and when I left the University of Iowa, I went out trying to find a writing job, be it at a newspaper or advertising agency.  What I quickly discovered was that I was going to start at the bottom, working for peanuts at some small-town newspaper or being a junior copywriter.  I don’t know what I was expecting before this, but I had no fantasies about being financially abused for years until I got my chance, so I sent out submissions to magazines–which were all turned down.  This was way before the day of blogs, so I didn’t know what I was going to do at this point to feed my creative jones.  Jobs I was looking into included working for Terminix as an exterminator, being a manager at a Honeybaked Hams, and being a claims adjuster for an Insurance Company. You know, the kind of jobs that a communications major could get.

Just when I thought one of these jobs was going to be my career path, I went to a standup comedy show.  Now I had been to a few shows, but unlike these shows, the one I’m discussing here gave me the motivation to give standup a try.  You see, I thought the MC and even headliner weren’t very good.  (the feature act was really good.) I was convinced I was funnier than these people, especially the MC.  The MC actually became a solid standup, but when I told him later on that he was my greatest motivation on getting into comedy, I don’t think he thought it was too funny.

So that is the story on how I decided to become a standup.  My dream was to write humorous things and get paid for it. I never really even thought about being a standup, though. I knew it was going to take too long to have success at journalism or the advertising world, so I took what I perceived was the quickest short-cut, going on-stage as a comedian. And that is my story on how I decided to become a comic.

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